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US to approve reactor sale to China soon
Updated: 2004-10-19 15:55

Washington will likely approve the first-ever sale of powerful US-made nuclear reactors to China in the next few months, a senior US official said on Tuesday.

The United States was expected to seek promises China would not sell the next-generation nuclear technology to other countries, Nils Diaz, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a news conference.

"The commission will actually vote on this issue hopefully in the next couple of months," he said during a trip to Beijing.

"We don't foresee any problems with the AP1000 licence because most of the problems have already been solved.

"I cannot predict what the voting of my fellow commissioners is, but I haven't heard any significant opposition to the issue," Diaz added.

Approval would be a victory for Pittsburgh-based, British-owned Westinghouse Electric Co., which applied in February to build two of its 1,100 megawatt next-generation AP1000 reactors in China.

It would mark the first sale of US-made nuclear reactors to China, which has invited bids from foreign firms to design and build four nuclear power plants worth billions of dollars to meet energy shortages.

In February 1995, Westinghouse signed an agreement to provide two 650-megawatt steam turbines for China's Qinshan nuclear power plant. The turbines were considered a non-nuclear portion of the plant.

China has a plan to quadruple nuclear generating capacity to 32,000 megawatts between 2005 and 2020.

The sale of two such reactors, which are being billed as powerful and safe, would generate some US$2.7 billion in revenue for Westinghouse, which has said it aims to dominate the Chinese market. The reactor has not been built anywhere in the world.

Diaz said Washington would seek non-proliferation assurances from China.

"Certain assurances will probably be asked from the Chinese government of not forward sales, in other words not selling to other countries," he said.

Former US President Bill Clinton cleared the way for US reactor sales to China in 1998 under a bilateral cooperation agreement after Beijing promised not to sell to Iran.

Diaz declined to comment on prices the reactors would fetch, but said he had heard prices between US$1,200 and US$1,500 per kilowatt of electrical power. There would be no limit on the number of reactors Westinghouse could sell to China, he said.

"They are looking for reactors with reduced maintenance, reduced monitoring, something that is state-of-the-art. The AP1000 is a state-of-the-art reactor," he said.

"If China decides to go ahead with AP1000, we certainly will ask the Chinese government for the capability of seeing, participating and being there during construction."

Westinghouse, a unit of British nuclear firm BNFL Plc, competes in China against France's Electricite de France and Framatome ANP, Germany's Siemens AG Canada's Atomic Energy Ltd, and Japan's Mitsubishi.

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